There has been a lot of buzz around facial recognition software lately. And this buzz has come down on both side of the issue, from the benefits off facial recognition software to the dangers and privacy concerns. I just read about a different take on facial recognition software that uses artificial intelligence in a little different way. Five major UK supermarkets are set to trial age estimation technology to accurately guess customers’ ages when purchasing alcohol. Co-op, Tesco, Asda, Aldi, and Morrisons are participating in a government “regulatory sandbox” between January and May 2022, testing the technology’s ability to facilitate alcohol sales safely and swiftly. Yoti, a digital identity platform used by the NHS, claims to have developed the world’s most accurate age estimation technology, training its AI-powered algorithm to check the age of faces with an average accuracy of 2.2 years. The service is opt-in, and the pictures will be deleted immediately after check-out. Certainly sounds like interesting technology. And now on to this week’s logistics news.
The last two years have been full of supply chain disruptions as Covid-19 and its multiple variants have spread around the globe. Companies are now bracing for another round of supply chain disruptions as China imposes sweeping lockdowns in an attempt to keep the omicron variant contained. China is home to nearly one-third of all global manufacturing, so a prolonged shutdown could certainly have major ramifications on global supply chains. Supply disruptions would be problematic as businesses are already facing a shortage of raw materials and longer delivery times. So far, the effects of the lockdowns on Chinese factory production and deliveries have been limited. Four of China’s largest port cities (Shanghai, Dalian, Tianjin, and Shenzhen) have imposed narrowly targeted lockdowns to try to control small outbreaks of the omicron variant. But, as of this writing, these cities had not locked down their docks.
The Biden administration announced the release of $14 billion to the Army Corps of Engineers to fund 500 projects with a focus on easing supply chain problems and addressing climate change. The spending is part of Biden’s larger $1 trillion infrastructure deal and is being used to show how the projects will improve supply chain backlogs. There are three specific projects tied to reducing supply bottlenecks by making it easier to transport goods. First is to enhance the country’s ability to move goods. Specifically, the Administration will provide $858 million to support the replacement of locks that keep water levels high enough for large cargo ships to pass through the upper Ohio River, west of Pittsburgh. Second is to reinforce America’s largest port complex. The Administration will invest $8 million to improve commercial navigation and allow larger and more ships to pass at the Port of Long Beach, CA. Third, is to move more goods faster at one of the nation’s fastest growing ports. The Administration will invest $69 million to improve navigation and expand capacity at Norfolk Harbor, VA.
Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, has been around in one shape or form for a while. The process essentially entails building a three-dimensional object from computer-aided design (CAD) to add material layer by layer until a final product is complete. There has been a lot of interest in 3D printing for easing supply chain congestion, especially when it comes to small spare parts. Well, 3D printing’s next big act could be large metal objects. A new method from a startup called Seurat could be the breakthrough the industry has been waiting for. If Seurat’s method can be used on a large scale, US supply chains could be reimagined using low-cost “print depots” to manufacture parts domestically, at high volume, where and when they’re needed. This new metal 3D printing technology could revolutionize the way large industrial products like planes and cars are made, reducing the cost and carbon footprint of mass manufacturing.
FourKites, a leading provider of real-time tracking and visibility solutions across transportation modes and digital platforms, announced that it has acquired European supply chain visibility provider NIC GmbH (NIC-place). The combined over-the-road, rail, and ocean carrier networks of FourKites and NIC-place will create the largest multimodal carrier network in Europe. The acquisition will also accelerate the adoption of secure real-time visibility solutions specifically designed for carriers, while shortening the time to value for shippers with complex, multimodal carrier networks. The companies will maintain the NIC-place name and will maintain the NIC-place offices in Germany from which to expand its team and operations. Financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
Shippers are struggling as ocean rates continue to soar. According to recent data, ocean shipping rates are expected to stay elevated well into 2022, setting up another year of booming profits for global cargo carriers and leaving smaller companies and their customers paying more for just about everything. The spot rate for a 40-foot container to the US from Asia topped $20,000 last year, including surcharges and premiums, up from less than $2,000 a few years ago, and was recently hovering near $14,000. What’s more, tight container capacity and port congestion mean that longer-term rates set in contracts between carriers and shippers are running an estimated 200 percent higher than a year ago, signaling elevated prices for the foreseeable future.
Instacart continues to expand its service options in its partnerships with large supermarkets across the country. As more and more customers look to ready made meals, Instacart is seizing the opportunity to grow its business. Starting this week, Instacart has enabled supermarket customers to shop hundreds of meals from chains such as Publix Super Markets, Kroger and Ahold Delhaize USA’s Giant, Food Lion, Hannaford, Stop & Shop, and Martin’s banners. Customers can use the Instacart app’s Ready Meals Hub, a new in-app destination for prepared foods, to have them delivered to their home in as soon as 30 minutes. Consumers in 35 states now can access the Ready Meals Hub to order prepared meals for delivery from more than 4,100 grocery stores, and Instacart plans to roll out ready made meals from ShopRite in the coming weeks.
More than 70 businesses, including some of the world’s biggest plastic polluters, are calling for the UN to implement a global pact that includes reductions in plastic pollution as well as increased recycling. The businesses, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Nestle, have this weekend signed an open letter recommending such a “plastic treaty”. The call to action comes ahead of the UN’s Environment Assembly conference, which is taking place in Nairobi from 28 February. Signatories to the joint statement are recommending that the UN implements a legally binding treaty which, as well as improving downstream solutions for tackling plastic solutions, including recycling, would also set targets for reducing plastic production in the first instance. The open letter emphasizes the fact that the plastics pollution crisis is linked to the climate crisis and is harming ecosystems.
That’s all for this week. Enjoy the weekend and the song of the week, Blink 182’s What’s My Age Again?
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